Friday, November 20, 2009

An Education: Thoughts on Women, Higher Education, Marriage and Career

Hello readers. My husband invited me to share a few of my thoughts about the wonderful film called An Education. RC shared his thoughts earlier this week, which you can catch up on here. I can’t promise my posts will be as insightful or as robust as RC’s, truly, I cannot compete with his language genius, but I will do my best to be concise and not ramble.

Before I delve in to my post, I warn you, this does contain spoilers to An Education! You were warned...

First off, I adored this movie. The story line manages to be both heavy and light-hearted while giving viewers a look at the tension hanging between a 16/17 teenage girl's academic education, and her life education.

What struck me most about the film were the changing attitudes surrounding Jenny's (Carey Mulligan) academic pursuits as her romantic relationship with the older, financially well-to-do David (Peter Sarsgaard) became more serious - both from the perspective of Jenny and her parents.

From the beginning of Education viewers realize how important Jenny's admission into Oxford to read English is. Jenny's Dad obsesses over her studies and the amount of money he has devoted to her academic pursuits, just so Jenny can go to Oxford, for which he will pay even more money. Jenny pours over her books and delights in her studies, especially her musical pursuits playing cello.

Enter David. Older, wealthy from his naughty stealing, and endlessly charming, wise to all things cultured and somewhat handsome (Peter Sarsgaard just doesn't do anything for me, but I will give him a somewhat handsome nod).

Jenny spends more time with David than with her Latin dictionary, her grades slip. David woos Jenny and her parents and eventually proposes marriage to Jenny during the last semester of her Senior year of High School. All the while, Oxford seems a lot less important to both Jenny and her parents - David can financially take care of her and, therefore, there is no need for her to continue her studies. As the viewer, I found myself getting really frustrated at Jenny's ignorance and quick desire to throw away her academic pursuits to be a wife, and her parent's desire to upload their "financial obligations" to David.

While Education takes place in the 1960s, in many ways, I think the tension surrounding the desire of increased higher education for women and marriage/family has not changed much in 2009. As a college-educated woman who married at 21 and now has a young daughter, I find myself no longer desiring to complete that MBA I always wanted, and trying to rush out of my office as quickly as possible to get home to care for my family. In fact, most of the women I work with have their Master's or Doctorate's Degrees, successful careers and are now starting families and want to quit their 9-5 so they can stay at home, or just work part-time, to focus on being a mommy.

And you have to ask yourself, why did I work that hard, and invest so much money into an education I don't desire to use anymore? And then I wasn't so frustrated at Jenny for thinking that Oxford seemed less appealing compared to traveling and caring for her husband.

Don't get me wrong, I am a major advocate for women being educated - I am forever grateful for my awesome higher education. I just think that women have historically, and will continue to face a unique tension between their work/life balance that is completely unique to them as a mother or wife. And I greatly appreciated the presence of this tension in An Education.

So what do you think?


Jandy Stone said...

Thanks for posting your thoughts, Kimberly!

It was an interesting tension presented by the film - and I think indicated, within the film at least, a bit of a sense that education in the academic sense was a means to an end for both Jenny and her parents. Moreso for her parents, who thought an education would provide her financial and societal security. Jenny enjoyed learning, but really I think what she really wanted was the cultural experiences and opportunities that an education would give her. She didn't want to learn Latin from a book, she wanted to go hear concerts and see fine art.

David seemed to offer both of those things (financial security and cultural experiences) without the time and effort of university. He was a "short cut" to what they both wanted.

RC said...

@ Kim - thanks for posting! I am glad you took the time to share these thoughts.

I think the thoughts you bring up and the thoughts as represented in the movie are pretty common experiences, but not discussed or brough up often in art in this way.

Jandy - you are dead on in your assessment. David was both of their shortcuts.

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